Camp Christmas, the immersive holiday installation brought to life by artist Lonnie Hanzon and the Denver Center for Performing Arts, is a Christmassy fever dream of kitsch and history. The self-guided tour/show takes us through Hanzon’s novel (and blingy) interpretation of Christmas through the ages—with a Blucifer impalement thrown in for good measure.
“It’s like the old days of department store windows, but you get to climb inside,” Hanzon says of his 10,000-square-foot yuletide wonderland.
The bizarrely over-the-top, museum-meets-Santa’s workshop experience opens November 21 inside the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace. Here’s why it’s a must-see for holiday fanatics of all ages.
Christmas doesn’t get any quirkier than this. Most holiday traditions don’t involve Blucifer, DIA’s blue demon horse, getting impaled by a herculean candy cane. Or Marie Antoinette riding in a giant, gold-drenched sleigh being pulled by a six-foot-tall glitter elk with shimmering antlers reaching up to the ceiling. The thousands of unique Christmassy knickknacks—both created and collected—are eclectic works of art that span eras, as well as the globe.
There are bars. When you first enter Camp Christmas, you walk through a magical tunnel of lights that deposits you into an even more magical Santa Bar. There, amidst 1,000 Santas ranging from cute to creepy, you can grab a spiked hot chocolate or apple cider whiskey-based Ginger Snap to sip through the experience. And if you sip too fast? Not to worry, there’s a second bar in the middle of the show (right after fairyland). A piña colada from the Beach Bar is just what you need while you wander through art deco Christmas.
Unbeatable selfies. Have you even experienced the holiday season if you haven’t posted your smiling face in front of a massive Santa mandala on your Insta? And please consider your Facebook friends as you pose in the all-pink, mid-century room. They need to see this.
You’ll learn something. As you traverse the 10 eras, from the Roman empire to present day, with dips into fairyland and sugar disco along the way, you’ll discover how the winter solstice has been celebrated throughout time. Think of it as one big, glitter-drenched history lesson.
The stories behind the art. The dozens of mirrored balls floating in the disco room? Those were willed to Hanzon by a drag queen named Sparkle Sally. The 500 pounds of sugar melted into colored, glassy discs at 400+ degrees to build the 16-foot-tall sugar Christmas tree? Hanzon cooked it himself, in a makeshift kitchen set up in the corner of the room the week before the show opens.
The kids will be entertained. “We’re not bulletproofing this,” Hanzon says, which we’re translating as yes, there are things you can do and touch, but please don’t let your kids climb the Christmas light tree and snatch the antique Edison bulbs. When you first check in you’ll be given a field guide directing you to seven activities within the extravaganza. Earn merry badges—a play on scout merit badges; get it?—by completing missions like identifying the iconic toys of the art nouveau era by feel. “If you get all seven (merry badges), you’re guaranteed a Merry Christmas,” Hanzon says.
Pun trees are fun trees. While the kids earn their badges, adults will feel extra pleased with themselves for deciphering the dozen pun trees scattered throughout. A couple clues: think about what the trophies represent, and the palm tree isn’t made of leaves.
If you go: Tickets are available through denvercenter.org and range from $8-21. Admittance is every 15 minutes from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. or 10 p.m., depending on the night. The show runs November 21 through January 5 at the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora.